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Transcript 16071

Interview with David Bevan, ABC Radio Adelaide

Photo of Rudd, Kevin

Rudd, Kevin

Period of Service: 03/12/2007 to 24/06/2010

More information about Rudd, Kevin on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 14/08/2008

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 16071

HOST: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, welcome to Adelaide and welcome to the morning program.

PM: Hi David, good to be on the program.

HOST: Prime Minister have you come to Adelaide offering anything to help solve the state's water crisis?

PM: Cabinet is meeting in Adelaide today and we will be briefed by the Murray Darling Basin Commission on the key question of the overall state of the system which means the amount of water within it.

And secondly the implications for that in terms of the lower lakes and the long term water security of Adelaide. And Cabinet will then, based on that submission, look at what further measures will be possible to reduce the pressure on a system.

The core reason for the pressure on the system being, we are in the middle of an appallingly low level of rainfall into the total catchment of the entire Murray Darling Basin system and I can't make it rain.

HOST: There are some people who seriously question the figures that the Murray Darling Basin Commission had come up with in the last week or so. For instance, somebody that you have got to get to know over the next few months and years, Nick Xenophon independent Senator for South Australia, he believes that there needs to be an independent audit of the water because a lot of the information that is given to the Commission comes via states and states have a lot of self interest in this.

PM: Well what I have got to say David is that we are dependent on the advice provided to us by the expert body and their advice is that in a system which has a total storage capacity of 24,000 gigalitres, that's the Murray Darling system, currently the public storage stands at something like 2,250 gigalitres.

This is a huge shortfall in the entire system. But in terms of alternative expertise to provide umbers, frankly we are required to act on the advice given to us by those who go out there and do the professional measurements.

HOST: Have you given up on the lower lakes?

PM: I believe the lower lakes are an absolute environmental priority for the nation, in which case Governments of all political persuasions need to do whatever is physically possible to make sure that this asset is preserved as best as is possible.

That is one of the reasons why the Government, which has only been in for the last 6 to 8 months, has begun a program of buying back water entitlements. This is the first time that the Commonwealth Government has done that.

We have already purchased back, 35 gigalitres worth of entitlements. The previous government had 12 years to act on this nationally and I can't identify a single occasion that they actually bought back a single entitlement.

We have begun that process; we have dedicated $3.1 billion for the purchase back of further water entitlements into the system, that is what we engaged in.

HOST: But you have baulked at the idea of compulsorily acquiring water. That is real water, not entitlements to water because if, you might have an entitlement to an enormous amount of water and it is not there, you can't use it.

But you have baulked at the prospect of buying, compulsorily acquiring water, real water.

PM: Well go back to the question of how much water actually lies within the public storage system itself.

The figures I ran through before which is a storage capacity across the system of some 24,000 gigalitres, currently our public storage stands at 2,250 gigalitres.

That is the problem in terms of the overall supply of water into the system, which comes off the back of the fact that five of the last six years we have had record low inflows of water into the Murray.

And again I go back to the point, that, and I have heard people like Christopher Pyne and others complain about inaction by the current government on this question for last six months, these problems have been emerging for the last six to 12 years.

We have a record of inaction by our predecessors. What we have done is taken every possible measure available to us in the last six months to try and turn this disaster around.

And it is a real problem.

HOST: Many South Australians think that if the River Murray finished in Victoria or New South Wales, it would never have reached this crisis.

PM: Well the key challenge we face in dealing with the totality of this river system, is one, recognise the supply constraints, that is, it's not raining. But two, on the demand side, people pulling water out of the system, what can we do about that.

Three practical measures. The first is, and for the first time the Commonwealth Government has now an agreement with the states to set up a single authority for the management of the entire Murray Darling Basin area, it is the Murray Darling Basin Authority with the power to set a cap, a total cap, on the water extracted from it. That is the first time that has happened and we have done that in the first six months.

HOST: (inaudible) for instance, you weren't able to broker a deal with the other states to lift the cap on trading water between various irrigating areas. It is still left at four per cent. So that body, that independent body that you set up is extremely limited. Much of the powers remain with the states and will remain there for another 10 years.

PM: The body has been established despite a decade or so which was available to our predecessors to establish it. For the first time in the country's history we have a national authority capable of setting this cap and it will take a while to implement, I agree with that on the ground.

I don't wish to mislead people about how complex this is, but in six months we have cracked a nut which our predecessors failed to do over 12 years.

Second point though is, how do you actually take further pressure off the system on the demand side. And that is this ambitious program of $3.1billion for buying back water entitlements across the system. And in six months, we have already allocated $50 million of that, purchased back 35 gigalitres of entitlements.

And the third practical measure is this, those who currently draw on water from the system, how do we make their use of water, from the system, more efficient. And the Government, and again in partnership with the states including the Government of South Australia, is investing $5.8 billion on a whole range of irrigation and water efficiency measures. Because currently the systems across the Murray Darling can lose up to thirty per cent of the water taken out of the system simply through the inefficiency and antiquated state of the irrigation machinery and technology being used.

HOST: Prime Minister, all of those measures might have worked ten years ago. If you implement them as you have just outlined, the Lakes will be dead. The Lakes will have turned to acid or they will have been covered in sea water, before much of that is implemented. Do you accept that proposition?

PM: Well David, I can deal with the practical situation presented with me having been Prime Minister for the country for six to seven, seven or so months. And these are the measures that we are implementing. In terms of the importance of the Lower Lakes I am in complete agreement with you.

This is a highly stressed area, I visited them recently with Senator Penny Wong, and in terms the challenges faced there, these are great and large indeed. Building over the last decade plus. What we have done in terms of practical measures, about how you take pressure off the system, vis a vis, water being taken out of it, is embrace this set of measures with buying back water entitlements and improving irrigation efficiency and your earlier point is correct. The Murray Darling Basin Authority will take some time to establish a basin wide cap but this is an area which has been the subject of Commonwealth-State bickering for the better part of 100 years. For the first time we have a national authority, but it covers an area one seventh the size of the Australian land mass, one seventh of the Australian population, 40% of the nations agriculture and as a consequence it's difficult to work though.

HOST: Prime Minister you've twice said that there's about 2500 gigalitres in public storage in the Murray. A listener has called to say that the Commission's report last week said there was 5,000 gigalitres in storage?

PM: The report that I have from the Murray Darling Commission, four major storages as at 6 August 2008 has Dartmouth standing at 738 gigalitres, the Hume Dam at 678 gigalitres, Lake Victoria 314 gigalitres and Menindee Lakes 526 gigalitres. A total of 2,256 gigalitres and that refers to the storage which is currently occupied in the four major dams of the system.

There are a number of smaller weirs across the system, but that is the heart of the system that I have just referred to.

HOST: Talking to interstate journalists and commentators I get the feeling that in the eastern states they think this very clearly. There is not enough water, the lakes will turn to acid unless they are flooded with sea water. So stop complaining South Australia, stop worrying about how we got here and accept that, that's what needs to be done. Do you accept that view?

PM: No my attitude is along the lines of how do we actually help two problems here which are immediately faced in South Australia and that is one, what can we do in practical terms to reduce the overall demand on the system which increases the water which flows through to South Australia and therefore the Lower Lakes hence the buyback of water entitlements against a very significant program of purchasing.

And the second is what do we need to do long term to secure Adelaide's water supply itself. Which is why prior to the election I indicated that we would be as an incoming Government committed to the establishment of a significant additional funds, in excess of $1 billion, to assist State Governments with the construction of desalination plants to ensure their long term urban water supply.

These are practical measures that we've embraced, practical measures that we will implement. But to be upfront with you David turning this around in the matter of the last 6 to 8 months, on the back of what has been a decade plus of inertia and inaction on the part of our predessors, is a very difficult task. We are doing what we can but I'm not in the business of saying this is an exclusively South Australian problem at all.

My job as Prime Minister is to govern for all Australians and when it comes to South Australia's needs, and the needs of the Lower Lakes, they are particularly acute.

HOST: Prime Minister we're only a minute away from the 9 o'clock news but Terry has called to say Kevin Rudd has the opportunity to be a legend or a loser over the Murray it's your choice?

PM: Well David I'd just much rather level with people about the dimensions of the problem in terms of overall rainfall supply, what you can do to pull water out of the system by the practical measures I referred to before and as a result have a credible long term strategy dealing with the Lower Lakes and dealing with Adelaide's water supply.

But you can't turn the Queen Mary around to be sailing in a particular direction for the last 12 years in 6 months. It takes time particularly with water, particularly when we are dealing with climate change and the impact it has on the nation's overall rainfall and water supply.

HOST: And you don't think it would be any different if the Murray finished in Victoria or New South Wales?

PM: My job David is to deal with the realities that I am confronted with. A Murray Darling System which has been ravaged, over allocated to hell over the last hundred years and to turn that around, $3.1 worth of money to buy back water entitlements is one practical step in that direction. There is much, much more to be done and we are working hard on this which is why the Murray Darling Basin Commission is with us here with the entire Cabinet in Adelaide to brief us on the state of the system and what further practical measures can be embraced.

HOST: Just quickly, people they might get some good news out of cabinet today?

PM: We'll listen very much to what the experts have got to say. We'll be back and back and back again when it comes to the Murray and South Australia's needs. This is a very dry part of Australia and this is the direst and hottest continent on the planet at a period of unprecedented climate change.

Therefore I'm going to be back and back again in terms of further practical measure that we can do to help but I don't wish to give anybody any suggestion...

HOST: We must go Prime Minister thank you its 9 o'clock.

Transcript 16071